The Approval Syndrome

Why We must Look to the Lord for Approval

“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

I must confess, I am unusual. I have never led our church to join a fellowship or an association of churches (although I have been kicked out of one that our church had united with before I became Pastor). I refused to join the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS), which has done much good, because of their practice of certifying teachers and accrediting schools. I have never been ordained. This is likely because I have attended some ordination councils where those doing the questioning seemed to think they were expected to conduct a cross-examination. They even appeared to enjoy embarrassing the candidate while airing their pet theological doctrines. I remember thinking as a young man, “So what happens if these guys don’t vote for the candidate? Is the young man not supposed to preach?” (I must add that I do believe in local churches under the leadership of the pastor sending out missionaries and pastors with their blessing and encouragement. This, I, believe is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he told Titus to “ordain elders in every city.”)

There is a human tendency to desire the approval of others. From the little child who says, “Look, Daddy!” as he performs his latest trick, to the housewife who waits eagerly for a compliment on her carefully prepared meal, to the preacher who is encouraged when one of his listeners tell him what a good sermon he just delivered; all of us desire praise and approval. It is this human tendency that can often get us in trouble. Scripture is clear that we are to look to God for our approval and not to man.

In the work of God, we have been guilty of “approving one another” for some time.

  • The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches has had “approved” colleges, “approved” camps, and “approved” mission boards for years.
  • Christian colleges that desire the accreditation of secular or sacred organizations are rapidly increasing in number.
  • Some have the tendency to put pastors and churches in their “directories,” often without the knowledge or consent of those pastors or churches. Some have even gone so far as to give ratings to the churches in their directories!

It seems to me that we typically follow a progression something like this:

1. We fellowship and associate ourselves with like-minded people. This is good and Scriptural (“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3).

2. We take counsel and advice from those whom we trust. This is also good (“In the multitude of counselors there is safety” Proverbs 11:14).

3. Some formal recognition is bestowed by the group on other members of the group. This is where the problem lies. Many years ago I preached at a church which displayed their certificate of accreditation from the AACS in the church auditorium. The preacher was a good man, the church was a good church, and I have every reason to believe that the Christian school was a fine institution. They had determined that having a certificate of accreditation from AACS gave them some credibility. It was an advertising tool. It was an answer to those who wondered about the qualifications of their institution. And yet, having thus displayed this certificate and relied on it to help establish their credibility, the church had, in my view, crossed a dangerous line.

Suppose that the AACS decided that a certain subject should be included in their curriculum for that school to maintain their accreditation? No doubt it would be a legitimate subject. It would help the education of the students; it would enhance the product the school produced. However, the minute that a school follows those recommendations in order to keep their accreditation, they have changed masters. They are not primarily looking to please God. They are looking to maintain the approval of an outside institution. In my opinion, when any institution accepts outside accreditation or approval, it has placed its neck in a noose. It may be years before the noose is tightened. It may be that the institution is able to operate exactly as it otherwise would have. But the fact is, now there is a layer of bureaucracy between them and God.

The truth is simple. We ought to obey God rather than man.

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12

I well remember, in preparing to teach about Catholics, referencing a book about the Catholic Faith. In the front of the book was a sticker which read, “This book is published under the imprimatur of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, outside of which no living soul can be saved.”

In addition to being struck by the obvious heresy that salvation is through a church and not the Lord Jesus, reading that sticker reminded me of the hierarchical control of Roman Catholics. All too often, we fundamental Baptists, to one degree or another, submit ourselves or entangle ourselves in similar though far less stringent control. A preacher friend of mine recently had another preacher visit his church. After the service this visitor introduced himself and said, “I just want you to know, I approve of everything you did tonight.” What an intriguing way to phrase it. Not, “I was blessed by all that went on,” or “I appreciate all you did,” or even “I was encouraged by the service;” but “I approve.”

As for me, I intend to take a stand against sin, cry out against compromise, and expose error. I also intend to avoid any entanglement which would put me in a position where I might be tempted to please men rather than God.

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